San Francisco Giants' Big Offseason Questions That Still Need to Be Answered
The San Francisco Giants have been very active since their 2013 season ended with a 76-86 record. After winning their second world championship in three years, this past season was a disappointment.
Injuries and performances that were below the Giants' expectations doomed them to a third-place finish in the NL West. With the Los Angeles Dodgers now very willing and able to spend through the roof, it was incumbent upon Giants general manager Brian Sabean to bolster the roster.
Sabean and the Giants acted quickly to sign Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum before either player hit the free-agent market. Pence led the Giants in home runs, RBI, runs scored, stolen bases and OPS.
Pence's five-year, $90 million contract looks like a relative bargain when compared to Jacoby Ellsbury, who signed a seven-year, $153 million deal with the New York Yankees, or Shin-Soo Choo's seven-year, $130 million contract with the Texas Rangers.
Sabean and the Giants were focused on returning to their tried-and-true formula of winning with pitching. With this in mind, in addition to retaining Lincecum, the Giants also signed two mainstays of their pitching staff, veterans Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong.
The biggest acquisition from outside the franchise was starting pitcher Tim Hudson, who signed a two-year, $23 million contract. Hudson started his career in the Bay Area, in Oakland, where he played from 1999-2004. He played for the Atlanta Braves for the next nine seasons.
The latest free-agent acquisition, Michael Morse, will fill a gaping hole in left field. The Giants were last in the National League in production from the left field position, and Morse will most certainly improve that.
As the hot stove fires have burned brightly for the Giants, there are still several important questions that need to be answered as the 2014 season unfolds.
Let's take a look at these key questions. How they are answered will go a long way in determining the Giants' success in the upcoming season.
5. Can Matt Cain Bounce Back from a Mediocre 2013 Season?
The San Francisco Giants desperately need Matt Cain to return to top form in 2014. After six consecutive seasons of over 200 innings pitched, Cain threw only 184.1 innings in 2013 and finished with a record of 8-10.
In those 184.1 innings of work, Cain allowed 158 hits and 55 walks, while striking out 158. Although Cain's WHIP ratio was a solid 1.156, his ERA of 4.00 was his worst since 2006. Contributing to this was a career-high of 1.1 home runs allowed per nine innings.
Cain may have been the victim of a bit of a tired arm in 2013. In the previous year, the Giants played until the end of October, and including the postseason, Cain threw a career-high 249.1 innings.
Cain's nickname is "The Horse" because of his reliability. The Giants need a return of the steady, reliable pitcher who earned All-Star selections in three of the last five seasons.
Now entering his 10th season in San Francisco, Cain is still only 29 years of age. He should have plenty of good baseball left. The Giants are counting on it.
4. Who Will Be the Giants' Middle Infield Reserves?
The Giants roster appears set at all starting positions and most backups. The only real question is who will man one of the backup infield roles in 2014.
This is an important job, as Marco Scutaro, at the age of 38, needs periodic rest. In addition, Pablo Sandoval has spent multiple stints on the disabled list over the past three years.
The logical candidates for this reserve role are Tony Abreu, Nick Noonan and Ehire Adrianza.
Abreu has the most experience and did a credible job for the Giants last year. In 2013, he played in 53 games and had 138 at-bats. Had Abreu not battled knee problems early in the season, he most certainly would have seen more action.
Abreu hit .268 with an OBP of .301 and OPS of .743. Due to his bad knee, he does not have the most range at second base, his main position. At the age of 29, Abreu is who he is at this point in his career.
Noonan is younger and much quicker than Abreu. He is also a solid defensive player, but needs to improve his offense to stick at the major league level.
The wild card is Adrianza. He has the most upside of the three and is the most athletic. Adrianza is an excellent fielder, but has not shown enough consistency at the plate to be considered a can't-miss prospect.
Adrianza has a career minor league batting average of .248, but he did hit .310 in half a season at the Giants' Triple-A affiliate in Fresno. This earned him a September call-up and his first experience in San Francisco.
Both Noonan and Adrianza are 24 years of age and have time to improve their offensive games. If either player does that, he could supplant Abreu as the Giants' final reserve infielder.
3. Will Tim Hudson Be Healthy for the Start of the 2014 Season?
In late July, Tim Hudson suffered a severe ankle injury when he was stepped on by Eric Young Jr. while covering first base on a ground ball. Hudson's right ankle was broken and required surgery.
Prior to the injury, Hudson had started 21 games and threw 131.1 innings, allowing 120 hits and 36 walks, while striking out 95. He compiled a record of 8-7, with an ERA of 3.97 and WHIP of 1.188. Hudson should benefit from pitching half of his games at the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park.
The key for Hudson will be his health. He is 38 years of age, and returning from severe injuries becomes tougher as a player gets older.
All indications are that Hudson will be ready to begin spring training on time, and a successful season from him will go a long way to improving the Giants' chances in 2014.
The veteran knowledge and presence of Hudson should also help Tim Lincecum, as he continues his transition from being a complete power pitcher to one who has to rely on better location, movement and savvy.
2. Can Michael Morse Return to His 2011 Form?
The Giants signed free-agent outfielder Michael Morse and will give him an opportunity to be their starting left fielder. Gregor Blanco will play sometimes against right-handed pitching, but Morse will get the lion's share of the starts, if he's healthy.
Morse is not a good fielder, so it's his bat the Giants want in the lineup on a regular basis. When healthy, Morse can produce some excellent power numbers. His best season was in 2011, when he blasted 31 home runs and had 95 RBI.
In that 2011 season, Morse hit .303 with an OBP of .360 and OPS of .910. A big, powerful man at 6'5" and 245 pounds, Morse should not have any problems hitting the ball out of AT&T Park when he connects.
In 312 at-bats, Morse hit 13 home runs and drove in 27 runs. His batting average was .215, with an OBP of .270 and OPS of .651. A nagging wrist injury sapped his power, but Morse should be fully healthy heading into the 2014 campaign.
Giants GM Brian Sabean inked Morse to a one-year, $6 million contract. The deal includes additional incentives that could enable Morse to make upward of $9 million if he performs well.
The base contract at $6 million is very reasonable and could provide the Giants with a huge payoff. The major question that must be answered is whether Morse can stay healthy. If he can, he should have a big year.
1. Will Pablo Sandoval Earn a Contract Extension?
The biggest question for the Giants' 2014 season is likely to revolve around Pablo Sandoval. He will make $8.25 million this year and can become a free agent following the season.
It all comes down to trust. Can the Giants trust Sandoval to be in decent shape, or do they believe that if given a big contract, he will regress into the gluttony that has plagued him in prior years?
When he keeps his weight down, Sandoval's bat speed is better and his defense is good. However, if he allows his weight to balloon up, he becomes slow in the field and his bat speed suffers at the plate.
Sandoval, who is only 27 years of age, has incredible talent. The key is whether he can keep his weight under control.
The other issue is related to injury. Sandoval has multiple stints on the disabled list over the past few seasons. Some of this is bad luck, and in other cases, the excess weight he carries has contributed to Sandoval's injuries.
Sandoval's contract expires at the end of this season. It will be up to Giants management if it trusts Sandoval enough to offer him a new, long-term deal.